19 December 2006

Development Playtest Report: Last Stand

My current main project is Last Stand. This is a game about modern day benandanti, intended to have a feel reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer - concerned with a group of friends tasked with defending the community the live in.

The setup involves defining a bunch of things about the town and people that the good walkers (player characters - that's a transliteration of the original term) know. Key details are the numbers allocated to stats, choice of a single magic power and the animal form that this good walker takes in the dream battles.

The gamemaster gets to do this all for the witches that live in the town also, although so far I have done this on the fly as required.

Character generation has been problematic so far, with a little much creativity required on a fairly blank slate. This seems to be difficult and probably the game needs more direction in this area. This was particularly pronounced in the second playtest, aimed at testing a one-off including character generation for Kapcon. It doesn't look like that idea will fly, so I'll be writing pregenerated characters for this, as usual.

The other problem I had in both games is that the current rules lend a lot of structure to certain types of scenes which tends to mean they are aimed firmly at a particular goal, often detracting from the quality of play involved. I'm not sure how to address this. Partly this is because I'm pretty sure the main reason was general tiredness and lack of inspiration on my own part, and maybe from the rest of the group too. It might be that a more relaxed attitude, and letting things play out naturally, will be all that is needed. On the other hand, there are definitely some gamemaster preparation elements that could help too, and I may need to make sure that these are supported (e.g. have a list of names for new townsfolk who are met in play, more guidance about the effects of battles on real life).

I've said all that without introducing the overall shape of play, so I'll finish off with that instead. The good walkers all start after a defeat in one of the nighttime battles. Defeats manifest in real life as personal and community wide misfortunes based on the type of challenges that were lost. Play begins with scenes of normal life in which the good walkers must deal with this fallout and perhaps try to mitigate the damage done. Once this is played out, a night battle occurs and the good walkers must defeat the witches in surreal challenges. After this is resolved, play returns to real life and the consequences once more. When play begins a definite end game is also decided upon - if the good walkers are not successful soon, the community will be destroyed or corrupted by the witches, and the endgame condition is basically how close to this point they are as the story begins.

The bits that worked really well in play were the battles and direct followup scenes, so maybe the best idea is to start with a battle instead of just after one... hmm...

Rumours of War by Allan Mallinson

The Matthew Hervey series continues to get better in this novel. I'm not sure if he planned this all along, but Mallinson fills much of this novel set in and about 1826 Portugal with Hervey's memories of 1808 Portugal (the retreat to Corunna, in particular).

This feels kind of like a copout - an easy way to pad out a series - but not actually because it's bad or anything. More because it felt like he'd intentionally started with Hervey well begun on his career, that these early years were not so important. On the other hand, the naive Hervey of 1808 is definitely interesting to compare to his world-weary self of 1826.

10 December 2006

Nintendo Wii - First Impressions

So, we decided to get one of these. Gaming consoles are a strange new adventure for me, having never liked the controllers, I never owned one before. The Wii's motion-sensitive controllers are what attracted me to it, and they are pretty damn cool.

We've had a lot of fun with it, even though we are just on the tutorial games that came with an extra controller and the bundles Wii Sports games. Not much to these, but the controllers make them a lot of fun even so.

The Daughter of the House enjoys the cow-racing tutorial, which is played by tilting the controller. She can't quite manage it alone yet, but she's getting there. Myself and Make Tea Not War have been enjoying the tennis game, although I personally find myself just as bad at it as I was at actual tennis, as far as I can recall. Oh well.

The selection of games available is still fairly slim and, from reviews, it seems like few of them really use all the controllers' potential. We may be waiting some time for that, I suppose.

The Sabre's Edge by Allan Mallinson

Further adventures of Matthew Hervey, now Captain and in India and Burma in 1826. Still good stuff.

Stumbling On Happiness by Daniel GIlbert

An interesting and thought provoking study about the nature of happiness and why people are terrible at deciding what to do to improve their lives. Probably ought be mandatory reading for basically everyone (even if it's not 100% true, it's still worth exposing your decision making process to criticism of this sort, I think).